Jimmy Carter’s Experiences During The Great Depression

Former President Jimmy Carter writes, “From as early in March until as late in October as weather and my parents permitted, I never wore shoes. The first warm days of the year brought not only a season of freshness and rebirth, but also a time of renewed freedom for me. Running, sliding, walking through mud puddles, and sinking up to my ankles in the plowed fields gave life a new dimension. I enjoyed this sense of liberation on the farm, until we boys began wearing shoes to church and school, when we were thirteen years old and entered the seventh grade. Many of the men who lived and worked on the farms went barefoot all their lives, except on cold winter days. There is no doubt that this habit alone helped to create a sense of intimacy with the earth.”

Jimmy Carter shares his colorful boyhood in his most recent book, “An Hour Before Daylight.” Young Jimmy witnessed the troubles of many other Georgians around him. In Jimmy Carter’s earlier book, “Why Not The Best?,” he remembers, “My life on the farm during the Great Depression more nearly resembled farm life today. We lived in a wooden clapboard house alongside the dirt road which led from Savannah to Columbus, Georgia. Our house was cool in the summer and cold in the winter. It was heated by fireplaces with two double chimneys, and by the wood stove in the kitchen. For years we used an outdoor privy in the backyard for sanitation and a hand pump for water supply. Water for bathing had to be heated on the wood stove.”

“Our yards were covered with white sand, replenished every spring from a nearby sand pit. The yards were kept clean by sweeping once or twice a week with brush brooms and, typically, were occupied by dogs, chickens, guineas, ducks and geese.”

“Fried chicken and chicken pie were often part of our regular meals, and there were hen nests located in every convenient place-alongside buildings, in the forks of trees, and wherever else the hens had an inclination to lay eggs.” Jimmy recalls one hilarious event on the farm. “My mother’s youngest sister, Sissy, was very close to us, and when she was married we had the wedding dinner at our home. The whole family worked for days preparing a delicious meal to impress our many visitors who came there from throughout the state of Georgia. The main course was chicken salad. In the midst of the meal, as our guests sat under the shade trees in our yard in their fancy clothes, dozens of chickens began to die before our eyes. We scrambled wildly to pick up the dead chickens before our guests could see them. We discovered later that those chickens in our yard had eaten poisonous nitrate of soda which had been left open in bags in the field adjoining our house. Can you imagine dinner guests eating chicken salad while the family’s chickens are dropping dead outside?”

Jimmy’s father had many sharecroppers to help work the land. The sharecroppers usually had large debts and could never seem to work their way out of poverty. The sharecroppers worked long hours and the work was hard. In his new book, An Hour Before Daylight, former President Carter describes this work.

“The busiest time of the year, and the most nerve-racking, was when we were gathering peanuts and cotton, our cash crops. Wheat, oats, and rye were cut, shocked, and threshed in late spring for food and feed. The labor crunch came when all farmers were harvesting peanuts and cotton simultaneously. ‘Shaking’ peanuts was especially difficult, because of the heat, dirt and constant stooping all the way to the ground.”

Jimmy believes that women during the Depression were some of the hardest workers. He writes, “Although everyone in a farm family had to work long hours, the heaviest burden fell on women. In addition to their field work, often more strenuous than the men’s plowing; was all the cooking, churning, other housework, and care for the family. Most women’s workdays began at daybreak, and the morning meal had to be prepared before the men or the entire family went to the field. The chopping and toting of firewood for the stove was a constant chore, as was the feeding of chickens, pigs, or other livestock in pens around the yard. Most of the families were not blessed with a dug or well near the house, and water had to be toted from a distant spring for drinking and washing clothes. Of course, the women were also responsible for the bearing and care of children.”

“Many interesting people passed by in hard times. During some of the worst years of the Depression, the most frequent travelers we saw in front of our house were tramps. Some looked out of boxcar doors as the trains passed, and a far greater number walked down the road, toward either Columbus or Savannah. They were usually men traveling alone or in small groups. Every now and then an entire family would go by. As late as 1938, almost one-fourth of American workers were unemployed. Many had been put out of jobs by newly mechanized assembly lines in factories.

When Mama was home we never turned away anyone who came to our back door asking for food or a drink of water. Those who showed up were invariably polite, and most of them offered to cut wood or do other yard work in return for a sandwich. We enjoyed talking to them, and learned that many were relatively well educated and searching for jobs of any kind.”

Living during the Great Depression helped Jimmy Carter become president and a respected leader. For more information about Jimmy Carter’s life during the Depression, see his new book, An Hour Before Daylight, published by Simon and Shuster

Provided by Georgia Voyager